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Past, present and parents at U.S. Champs

Marissa Secundy won the novice ladies event as U.S. Championships.
Marissa Secundy won the novice ladies event as U.S. Championships. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford and Liz Leamy, special to icenetwork.com
(01/21/2008) - Past, present and parents converge at U.S. Nationals.

Natalia Mishkutenok

Yesterday was Artur Dimitriev's 40th birthday, and at least one person here at the U.S. Championships remembered.

"I called him before the novice pair final," Natalia Mishkutenok said. "I caught him right before he went to sleep."

Together, Mishkutenok and Dimitriev won the 1992 Olympic pair gold, the 1994 Olympic silver and two world titles. After Mishkutenok retired, the stalwart Dimitriev teamed with Oksana Kazakova to win yet another Olympic gold in 1998.

Mishkutenok moved to Colorado Springs in 1995, living there for eight years or so. In 2003, she relocated to Mansfield, Texas, near Ft. Worth. There, she lives with her husband, Alan Hainline, a builder and seller of custom homes. The couple has a two-year-old daughter, Natasha; Mishkutenok also has two stepdaughters, 11-year-old Emily and 12-year-old Kaitlyn.

"I coach all levels, singles and pairs," she said. "I like coaching pairs because you can create more stuff with two people, but I also enjoy singles. I'm even helping with dance couples, teaching them how to do the lifts and spins."

Mishkutenok has three students at this event, including Angela Maxwell, the 2007 U.S. novice champion who won the junior ladies short program; and Ashley Cain and Sergey Sidorov, who finished eighth in novice pairs.

While many of her contemporaries have participated in the explosion of skating tours and television shows in Russia, the Minsk-born Mishkutenok prefers her coaching and family life. She travels to St. Petersburg once a year to visit relatives, including her mother and sister.

"I just came back from Russia; my whole family went to celebrate my mother's 70th birthday," she said. "I still own apartments there in the city, and I visited my old coaches, Tamara Moskvina and her husband Igor Moskvin.

"I have Russian TV here, and it's a lot of fun to watch all of the skaters of the past, but I don't see myself there. My family is in Texas, and I would feel guilty leaving my students. Maybe if it was just a little exhibition, that would take only a few days I would do it."

Lloyd Eisler

"Take your time -- don't rush out there!" Lloyd Eisler, Canada's two-time Olympic pair medalist, said to student Kloe Bautista.

"Just wait your turn back here. You don't need to stand there by the boards."

Perhaps Eisler was passing on a tip he heard from his own long-time coach, Kerry Leitch, decades ago. Wherever the wisdom came from, Bautista - who placed fourth in novice pairs with partner Galvani Hopson -- was glad to get it.

"It's a great honor to work with him," she said. "He's way up there in terms of great pair skaters, and he shares his greatness with us."

The 44-year-old from Ontario has become a coaching force in the U.S., teaching young pairs the strong twists, throws and lifts he did so surely with his most notable partner, Isabelle Brasseur.

"Kloe and Galvani have been together for four years, and they get along really well," Eisler said. "I think when skaters have a good off-ice relationship it shows, and it makes a big difference in a pair team's performance."

Eisler ought to know. He and Brasseur got along well enough to earn bronze medals at the 1992 and 1994 Olympic Games. They were also the world champions in 1993.

After retiring from eligible competition, the team had a long-standing professional career. They toured with Stars on Ice in Canada for many years and performed in countless professional competitions and television skating specials.

"We worked hard, that's how we trained and got results," said Eisler. "I'm passing that on to my students now."

For the last two years, Eisler has made Los Angeles his home. He lives there with his girlfriend, actress Kristy Swanson, and their year-old son, Magnus Hart.

The couple famously met while competing on the Fox TV Skating with Celebrities reality competition in 2006. Eisler, married at the time to former wife Marcia, formed a romantic relationship with the actress that led to months of tabloid headlines. He will not discuss his private life, preferring to concentrate on his students' skating.

This week, the entire family was in Saint Paul. While Eisler was busy at the rink coaching, Swanson was in town doing some research for a film she plans to star in and produce.

Eisler teaches at the Pickwick Ice Arena in Burbank, training skaters of all levels and ages.

"I work with skaters all the way from beginners through elite competitors, and it's been great," he said.

Asked if there are any differences in teaching Californian skaters as opposed to those he had coached back home in Canada, Eisler said that he has had to reinforce to some of his students the importance of showing up for lessons on time.

"L.A. is very different from Canada, but it's a great area," he said. "I find that for me, it has been a lot about instilling a serious training philosophy among my students. Then, they see a difference and keep building upon that."

Parents play key role in support system

If there has been one noticeable thing that has been apparent in backstage happenings, it has been the key role of the parents at this event.

Throughout the first day of competition, as the skaters practiced and competed, the parents in the audience proudly clapped and cheered for their kids.

It was particularly interesting to observe the parents of the rookie-level national competitors, since for many of them, this represented their child's first or second time skating in such a major event.

"It's so exciting to sit in the stands and watch our daughter," said Brad Secundy, father of Marissa Secundy, who was crowned the novice ladies champion Monday. "She works so hard, and this is what she enjoys doing. But when they're out on (the ice), it's up to them and we've learned we can't control anything."

Secundy, 14, is one of three children and lives with her family in Colorado Springs, Colo. It would be fair to say that Secundy is, by general definition, a high achiever.

She is a freshman at Cheyenne Mountain High School, and carries a exceptionally high grade-point-average, while balancing a full-time competitive training schedule.

She trains with a team of coaches at the Broadmoor Rink that is headed by Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin. She skates three hours a day, six days a week. In addition to that, she does several hours of off-ice training.

"She wants to skate, and we're happy to do whatever we can to support her. She's getting great life lessons and is learning so much," said Secundy.

Secundy adds that he does make sure that when he and his wife take Marissa to competitions, their daughter gets enough rest and adheres to a strict schedule.

Judy Speroff, the mom of novice pair skater, Andrew Speroff, who is also from Colorado Springs, said that sometimes it's hard for her to watch her son skate.

"Oh my gosh, I get very emotional when I watch my son skate," she said at the conclusion of Speroff's short program with his partner, Brittany Chase, in which they wound up first. "It's been such a hard year for him. He lost his partner, and then he and Brittany just started skating in August, so to see them skate so well makes me so happy."

Speroff, 18, was skating with another partner and had been due to go to a Junior Grand Prix with her in the fall. Unexpectedly, his partner quit, and he was unsure about his competitive future; that is until Chase came along.

"Brittany's just a great girl, she's been wonderful," said Judy. Chase, who had never done pairs before, had a tryout with Speroff, and right from the outset, they clicked.

Within one week, Chase took four consecutive U.S. Figure Skating pair tests with Speroff, which allowed them to sign up for Regionals right in the nick of time.

"They just made the deadline," Speroff's mom continued. "It was unbelievable how the whole thing happened, this is only their second competition and I'm just glad for them. They've worked so hard. He has a great time out there, and I'm here to help in whatever way possible. Sometimes I think the actual competition is harder for me than him. I just want them do well and be happy."